With summer behind us and everybody back in school and at the office, traffic snarl-ups in place, we’re truly getting into the groove in Bahrain.
Despite the headlines about how rosy everything is, there is no denying that the ground reality shows that 2019 has been savage so far. My friendly beauty salon worker says she is now sharing a two-bedroom flat with six people instead of four just to meet utility bills. Many expats at the blue-collar level have sent families back home and sudden bachelors are moving in together to run establishments that will save them money. One prominent private expat school says it is witnessing the maximum drop in pupils in all its years.
Against this backdrop, many things are being done by the government to set a new template of change and tackle challenges. One of them is the promising establishment of a BD100 million liquidity fund that will support private sector companies to tide over difficult times. We are also seeing an overhaul of the education system to offer tech-based courses and approaches that will prepare young Bahrainis for the workplace of the future that will be dominated by AI and blockchain. The University of Bahrain introducing a four-year-degree in cloud computing, the Education Ministry is encouraging a STEM approach to school-level study to get students to think scientifically. The just-opened Amazon Web Services Inc. encourages large and small firms to take part in the tech march.
However, there is one issue that may hinder real success. And that is the Bahrain habit of cloning for success. If one cafe or designer salon does well, you will see 10 spring up in the same neighbourhood. If one particular AI finds success, there will be a dozen similar ones being created overnight. One jam-packed mall leads to a chain of them, all crowded together like children in a strange playground.
For many markets outside Silicon Valley and other hubs of new technology, the first flush of money comes from copycat startups. These companies might make plenty of revenue reproducing American-made technologies but in reality, they do not represent that cutting-edge new horizon that excites venture capitalists and investors. Entrepreneurs must understand that such success is short-lived and in the overall scheme of progress, what puts one on sure footing is a new approach that opens up new possibilities.
To win hard cash as investment, Bahrain’s entrepreneurs – and even the kingdom’s established businesses – need to focus on serious R&D and come up with fresh ideas, products and services that represent change – the coveted ‘first’ that can be transformative. Simply replicating old ideas with a cosmetic tweak of language, font or decimal point will not do if we are to even enter the race for future leadership. This is true of everything – not just business ideas, but how we approach the tidal change in attitudes, social change and that way we live. Even in slow and steady Bahrain, our world seems to be unfolding into a Toffleresque universe where old values and ways of doing things are crumbling and being replaced, whether we like it or not, by new ideas.
That old French saying ‘Plus ca change…” meaning ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’ has finally run its course. Today, if you don’t change, you will be discarded in the backwash of the powerful currents sweeping through our lives and through society.